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The men in charge of Edinburgh airport talk shop and the Scottish Cup final

Gordon Dewarand David Wilson interview. Picture: Neil Hanna

Gordon Dewarand David Wilson interview. Picture: Neil Hanna

  • by GINA DAVIDSON
 

THE bet was £50 and was to be paid by the man whose football team won. “But I never thought that would mean a tenner a goal,” laughs Gordon Dewar. “I didn’t mind paying up, though, it was a great result.”

The chief executive of Edinburgh Airport is grinning from ear to ear, gleefully pulling the leg of right-hand man David Wilson as they verbally spar over last season’s Scottish Cup final result and the current league placings of their teams.

The pair are close colleagues, but when it comes to football they are on opposite sides of the runway – green is the colour for David, while Gordon is maroon through and through.

But they are Edinburgh men born and bred, and the pair believe this can only be of benefit to the airport and, by association, the city as a whole. They’ve worked together before but career paths had led them elsewhere until they were brought back to the airport by its new owners, Global Infrastructure Partners, earlier this year.

They are certainly a pairing to contend with, a kind of Del Boy and Rodney of the flying world. That’s not just to do with their respective heights, but more their roles and obvious driving ambition.

Dewar’s job is the public face of the airport – hence no Movember moustache for him – out there wheeling and dealing with new airlines, wooing them to Edinburgh, while at the same time ensuring those already here stay happy – and that means keeping their costs to a minimum. He’s also the one who has to get out and glad-hand the movers and shakers of the city and government.

Wilson, on the other hand, is in the background, making sure the place runs smoothly on a daily basis, keeping security tight but the passenger experience a good one. To this end, he says they are looking at removing the guided waiting lanes which can infuriate passengers when the airport is quiet.

Dewar obviously relishes being back in charge at Edinburgh. He believes its new owners have the right attitude to the airport and what it can achieve. Already he’s signed a new agreement with easyJet to launch six more routes from Edinburgh, and then there’s new deals with Turkish Airlines and Brussels Airlines to begin and expand existing services.

All of which is extremely good news, especially coming on top of figures showing international traffic continuing to rise – up 2.2 per cent on last year – although the domestic market is still uncertain. That’s something he hopes will be resolved by the recent announcement that Virgin Atlantic will soon be flying out from Edinburgh to Heathrow.

The one issue sorely taxing him at the moment is Air Passenger Duty, which he believes could cost Edinburgh one million passengers by 2017. “Over the next few years, APD could cost a family of four £100 on their holiday, and if it’s long haul, say to Florida, it could be £240. When you look at easyJet and Ryanair advertising flights for £9.99, APD makes a huge difference to that.

“We really do have to look after the pennies, not the pounds. Every extra expense counts – to the airlines and to the passengers. We provide everything – the facilities, the runway, the staff – and we charge the airlines less for all of that than what the government takes in APD for doing nothing. That’s the context.”

Dewar speaks at nine-to-the-dozen, sentences peppered with words like “connectivity”, “hubs” and “markets”. He is obviously delighted at easyJet’s commitment to Edinburgh and believes there’s “a huge amount yet to go for in Europe” – but his eye is on further afield.

“The Middle East is definitely on the radar. It would give us a hub from which passengers could then travel on to the Far East and Australia. We also want to improve on our existing connections at Newark and grow in North America. ”

One airline which can mean harder work than others is Ryanair. “We inherited a difficult position with them,” Dewar admits, referring to the Irish airline’s decision to cut routes from Edinburgh after a breakdown in talks over airport charges. “But we’re now working constructively with them and hope to persuade them a long-term deal is the right thing to do.”

But could the drive to attract more airlines put more pressure on the single runway? Are there plans to look at a second again? ‘We’ve no concerns about our capacity,” Dewar emphatically says. “We won’t need a second runway for a very long time. Our plans will keep pace with growth – a new runway is not an issue for us.”

Neither is the tram. Both Wilson and Dewar think it’s “fantastic” – Wilson points out the tracks from the top of the air traffic control tower – especially as through it the airport will be connected to the rail network at Haymarket and Edinburgh Park. But they agree that road access to the airport also needs improved. Of course, it’s not just the getting to the airport, but what happens when it comes to parking and getting inside that can rile passengers. The £1 drop-off charge for drivers was one of Dewar’s brainwaves the last time he was at the airport.

Wilson defers any questions on it to his boss. Dewar is unapologetic, but insistent there’s no plan to raise it – at the moment. “All the money raised from it has been invested into the airport facilities. It was introduced to stop a dangerous practice getting out of hand. It was a bad use of road space and passengers were having to weave in and out of cars.

“I think it was totally justified. It’s not on the agenda to be raised, but I would never rule anything out.”

For Wilson, his role is totally focused on making the passenger experience the best it can be. “But it’s a real team effort,” he says. “From baggage handling, to security, to getting a cup of coffee – the success of the airport is down to that experience so we have to all work collaboratively, sharing ideas about the future.

“But what really works in our favour is the Scottish welcome, the smile – that can make the whole thing enjoyable. And it’s why we’re voted the friendliest airport in the UK and the best in Europe in the five to ten million passenger bracket.”

The pair of them grin at each other. This time next year they could well break that ten million barrier.

DAVID WILSON

AGED 45, Hibs supporter and Movember moustache-grower David is chief operating officer at Edinburgh Airport, accountable for financial and operational performance, customer service, fire service and risk management.

He previously worked for four-and-a-half years at Gatwick – the world’s busiest single runway airport – as head of capital projects and head of airside operations. Prior to that he had a similar job at Edinburgh Airport.

His airport career started, though, as a fire officer on the runway for 12 years, before he became a senior officer at Glasgow Airport.

For seven years before he set foot on the tarmac, he was with the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment.

GORDON DEWAR

AGED 46, the Hearts supporter is David’s boss.

Gordon is back as chief executive of Edinburgh Airport after a couple of years abroad running the airport in Bahrain. It’s his job to work with airlines, attracting new destinations and ensuring the current ones continue to want to fly out of Edinburgh.

His career began with Halcrow, managing the firm’s transport business in Scotland, before he moved to First Group to become managing director of east of Scotland bus operations. He latterly became commercial director for First ScotRail.

He joined Arriva as commercial director for the UK regions and was appointed managing director of Glasgow Airport with BAA in 2007. A year later he took up the same post at Edinburgh, where he also became chair of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group.

He left in 2010 to be chief executive of Bahrain International, before coming home in June this year.

gina.davidson@edinburghnews.com

 

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